A More Just “Music City” that Works for All

June 29, 2016 -- Jamie Way

The Partnership for Working Families is working with a dynamic coalition of community and labor organizations in Nashville to ensure more accountable development in one of the fastest growing cities in the country. A coalition that includes Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, Workers Dignity, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, LIUNA, Ironworkers Union and the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee is moving forward a campaign for greater transparency and accountability for development projects receiving subsidies, especially as the city redevelops Downtown. This innovative pilot of “inside-outside” strategies for equitable economic development is a partnership among the Open Society Foundations, Partnership for Working Families and Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors.

“Music City” is in the midst of a significant economic boom. It is drawing new residents at the rate of 85 people a day due to the growth of tourism, hospitality, construction, healthcare and technology industries. Nashville is also now home to a growing immigrant and refugee population, which has transformed South Nashville into one of the most diverse communities in the city. At the same time, residents are experiencing rapid gentrification, an affordable housing crisis and stagnant wages.

At the center of the accountable development debate is Nashville’s redevelopment agency, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA). The MDHA is tasked with carrying out Nashville’s redevelopment activities, including the development of affordable housing and overseeing public housing. The coalition is advocating for a more public process for awarding subsidies to developers and ensuring the City of Nashville adequately monitors and evaluates projects based on job quality standards and training opportunities for residents who most need them.

On a parallel track, Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors is working with the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Empowerment to pursue policies and procedures that expand residents’ access to affordable housing, enhance workforce development opportunities, and promote financial empowerment for local families. In particular, the Mayor’s Office aims to develop and expand the municipal government’s internal capacity for ensuring that local policies, procedures, and tracking mechanisms are in place to achieve goals around equitable economic development. By undertaking these tasks in concert with PWF and the coalition’s efforts, the Mayor’s Office hopes to fundamentally shift economic performance metrics to evaluate outcomes based on growth, prosperity, and inclusion. With increasing growth as one of their focuses, the Mayor’s Office aims to evaluate how local policies and initiatives expand jobs, increase output, and raise wages. To help foster prosperity, the Mayor’s Office hopes to track outcomes to evaluate how growth improves productivity and ensure that increases in productivity translate to improved living standards and wages for workers. Similarly, the focus on inclusion is envisioned to ensure that all residents, including traditionally marginalized communities, are benefitting from a growing local economy. PWF and the coalition will work closely with Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors and the Mayor’s Office to ensure that the parallel efforts of the coalition and the Mayor’s Office are symbiotic.

Most recently, Workers Dignity released a new study, “Hotels Shouldn’t Hurt,” that outlined declining wages, wage theft and poor safety standard in the hospitality industry.

"Nashville's convention and tourism industries are booming, with hotels making record profits on the backbreaking work of housekeeping workers. Workers have begun to stand up, and have won improved wages and safer conditions at the Sheraton Downtown, DoubleTree, Holiday Inn Express, Homewood Suites, and other hotels. And they're just getting started," explains Diana López, a Workers' Dignity organizer who worked for years in housekeeping. The report recommends increased enforcement of wage and hour laws, the development of a ‘high road hotels’ program with worker and management participation and making public financing of hospitality projects contingent on compliance with a Cleaning Workers’ Bill of Rights.